Ankara considering opportunities to start talks with Syria: Hurriyet

Ankara considering opportunities to start talks with Syria: Hurriyet
A Turkish military position is pictured near the Syrian border, west of the village of Jindayris, in the countryside of Afrin. (File/AFP)
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Updated 07 April 2022

Ankara considering opportunities to start talks with Syria: Hurriyet

Ankara considering opportunities to start talks with Syria: Hurriyet
  • New report claims that bilateral discussions will take place over returning Syrian refugees living in Turkey
  • Ankara, Damascus have maintained low-level contact in recent years through their intelligence agencies

ANKARA: The Turkish government is mulling over opportunities to establish a dialogue channel with the Syrian government, the pro-government Hurriyet newspaper has reported.

Using anonymous sources, the Turkish daily said: “The balanced policy recently followed by Turkey and the role that Ankara has played in recent months, especially in resolving the war in Ukraine, have made the current period suitable for resolving the Syrian crisis.”

According to the report, the bilateral discussions will focus on three key issues: Protection of the unitary structure of the Syrian state against the activities of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), safeguarding the territorial integrity of Syria and allowing the safe return of about half of the Syrian refugees currently living in Turkey.

There has been no comment yet on the Hurriyet report from either Damascus or Ankara.

Francesco Siccardi, a senior program manager at Carnegie Europe, told Arab News that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is seizing a political opportunity with a potential move of rapprochement with Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“After presenting himself as the mediator between Russia and Ukraine, he could portray himself as a benevolent leader also in the Syrian scenario. The fact that both initiatives could bear no fruit is secondary to the perception of these posturing that will help him lift his image both at home and abroad,” he said.

The improvement of diplomatic ties with Damascus could also help Ankara reduce the political and economic burden of hosting 3.7 million refugees in Turkey amid skyrocketing inflation and decreasing purchasing power. The economic problems crippling the country are often blamed on the presence of an uncontrolled number of refugees.

According to Siccardi, this initiative could produce excellent gains for Erdogan if a portion of the Syrian refugees currently in Turkey are allowed to return to Syria.

Hurriyet also claimed that Assad’s visit to the UAE last month was seen in Ankara as a show of his willingness to take new initiatives and rally new support as he hopes to stabilize the country.

In the meantime, the normalization of ties between Turkey and Egypt is also on the horizon, with the appointment of a Turkish ambassador in Cairo on Wednesday after nearly nine years.

Experts note that Turkey’s ongoing normalization efforts with the Middle Eastern and Gulf countries will inevitably require resuming relations with Syria.

Samuel Ramani, an associate fellow at the London-based Royal United Services Institute, said Turkey regards itself as an increasingly important actor in the crisis diplomacy sphere.

“Turkey has acted as a dialogue facilitator and mediator between Russia and Ukraine, and is now trying to channel that experience to Syria. Assad’s recent visit to the UAE underscores his growing normalization with Arab countries, and despite Turkey’s antipathy toward him, Ankara realizes that Assad is Syria’s only leadership option,” he told Arab News.

According to Ramani, given the fact that Turkey is trying to ease tensions with regional powers, such as the UAE and Egypt, removing Syria as a source of tension serves that agenda.

Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria, Turkey conducted multiple military operations in Syria’s northern part in a bid to fight back against Syrian Kurdish militants that it associates with the PKK.

According to the 1998 Adana memorandum between Syria and Turkey, both parties are required to take necessary measures to remove PKK fighters from the Syria border.

Ankara has deployed thousands of troops in Syria and set up dozens of military outposts and bases there, which Damascus considers a violation of its sovereignty.

The last meeting between Turkey, Russia and Iran under the Astana process was held in December. How Turkey’s potential disagreements with Russia over its pro-Ukrainian neutrality policy will affect dynamics in Syria remain to be seen.

According to Ramani, Turkey has tried to compartmentalize its disagreements with Russia over Ukraine in its engagement with Moscow in Syria.

“Patrols between Russia and Turkey have continued in northern Syria, even as Russian tanks brandish the Z symbol of support for the war which Turkey opposes. Presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin cited Turkey’s ability to engage with Russia in theaters, such as Syria, while disagreeing with its conduct in Ukraine as a model for Western countries to follow,” he said.

As Turkey has not joined Western sanctions against Russia, Ramani does not expect that Moscow will have any objections to dialogue with Ankara in Syria.

“It will welcome talks between Turkey and Assad too,” he said.

For Siccardi, Turkey has much to lose in Syria and a change of the status quo in Idlib could have catastrophic consequences for Ankara.

“More than 3 million civilians have taken refuge there. An Assad regime’s offensive — backed by Moscow — could lead to many people crossing into Turkey, where almost 4 million Syrians have already taken shelter. This would be incredibly damaging for Erdogan, who is working for the safe return home of the better part of the Syrians currently living in Turkey. To prevent this outcome, Turkey will continue to be very careful and protective of its relationship with Moscow.”

Last year, Erdogan raised the specter of a new Turkish military campaign against Kurdish forces in northern Syria. For the moment, such an offensive is not on the domestic agenda.

“But, with an eye on the country’s parliamentary and presidential elections in 2023, any new plan for military operation in Syria will help Erdogan connect with his nationalistic constituencies and drum up support,” Aydin Sezer, an expert on Turkey-Russia relations, told Arab News.

“ Last year, Russia did not give Turkey the green light to any plan of a military offensive. But, considering current balances between Russia and the US over the Ukrainian conflict, Russia may push for a military offensive in Syria against Kurdish militants just to draw the US forces into a new turmoil,” he added.

According to Sezer, if the rapprochement between Ankara and Damascus bears fruit before the elections, the repatriation of refugees may take place with some political offsets.

“Damascus can ask Ankara to take back fighters of the Syrian National Army who mostly have Turkish citizenship, and offer its help for the repatriation of Syrian refugees,” he said, adding: “If Turkey takes coordinated steps with the UAE in Syria, it should also align its strategies with Russia.”

Ankara has, in the last four years, maintained low-level contact with Damascus through intelligence agencies.

But in 2019, Erdogan asserted that he would never talk to Assad, “who is responsible for the death of more than 1 million Syrians.”

Egypt FM attending freedom of religion conference in London

Egypt FM attending freedom of religion conference in London
Updated 13 sec ago

Egypt FM attending freedom of religion conference in London

Egypt FM attending freedom of religion conference in London
  • Societies that allow their people to choose what they believe are better, stronger and ultimately more successful

CAIRO: Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry is attending the International Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief in London.

The event, which is being held on July 5-6, is hosting 500 religious, government and civil society leaders from 60 countries to call for more action to protect freedom of religion or belief around the world.

In the opening speech of the conference, the UK’s Prince Charles said in a recorded message: “Freedom of conscience, of thought and of belief is central to any truly flourishing society. It allows people to contribute to their communities without fear of exclusion, to exchange ideas without fear of prejudice, and to build relationships without fear of rejection. A society where difference is respected, where it is accepted that all need not think alike, will benefit from the talents of all of its members.”

Speaking at the conference at the Queen Elizabeth II Center in London, UK Foreign Minister Liz Truss said: “The freedom to believe, to pray and commit acts of worship, or indeed not to believe is a fundamental human freedom and has been one since the dawn of time. Societies that allow their people to choose what they believe are better, stronger and ultimately more successful. This fundamental right is covered in the very first clause of Magna Carta and Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is one of the Four Freedoms Franklin D. Roosevelt said were ‘essential everywhere in the world.’”

Yesterday, the Egyptian minister, at the start of his London visit, met UK Minister of State for North Africa, South and Central Asia, the Commonwealth and the UN Lord Tariq Ahmed. The two discussed the conference, Egypt’s preparations for hosting and chairing COP27 in November, and the importance of continuing coordination between Egypt and the UK.

6 dead as twin bomb blasts destroy Yemen arms depot

6 dead as twin bomb blasts destroy Yemen arms depot
Updated 4 min 27 sec ago

6 dead as twin bomb blasts destroy Yemen arms depot

6 dead as twin bomb blasts destroy Yemen arms depot
  • Distraught residents search for missing relatives
  • Al-Qaeda known to be active in area

AL-MUKALLA: At least six people were killed and more than 30 injured on Tuesday when two massive explosions destroyed an arms warehouse in the southern Yemen province of Abyan.

The first blast happened in the morning inside a busy popular market near the weapons depot in Lawder, a large town in the province. As dozens of people milled around after the explosion, a second blast detonated in the two-story building containing the arms depot.

Officials said they could not give a precise number of casualties as the dead and injured were still arriving at Al-Shaheed Mahnef hospital in Lawder. Residents rushed to the hospital to searching for missing relatives and friends, and medical staff called for blood donations. The poorly equipped and understaffed hospital was forced to refer critical cases to larger hospitals in Abyan and Aden.

Authorities launched an investigation into the explosions, but Al-Qaeda are known to be active in the area and twin explosions a short time apart are a terrorist tactic to increase the number of casualties.

Abyan is a contested province between the internationally recognized government and separatists loyal to the Southern Transitional Council. It was the site of fierce battles in 2019 and 2020 that claimed the lives of many soldiers and Houthi terrorist militia fighters.

The Yemeni branch of Al-Qaeda exploited the anarchy in the province to make a comeback.

Suspected Al-Qaeda militants in the province are still holding five UN workers who were abducted in February while returning to neighboring Aden after finishing a field mission.

Local officials and tribal mediators have failed to convince the abductors to release the workers. The kidnappers insist on swapping them with allied prisoners in Aden and demand a ransom of thousands of dollars.

Elsewhere in Yemen, EU envoys have asked the Iran-backed Houthi militia to de-escalate and implement the elements of the UN-brokered truce, mainly lifting their siege on the city of Taiz.

The ambassadors of France and Germany and the Swedish special envoy to Yemen called Hussein Al-Azi, a Houthi leader, to ask him to accept the UN proposal on opening roads in Taiz and work on achieving peace after he threatened to resume military operations in the central province of Marib.

The ambassadors asked the Houthi leader to constructively engage with the UN Yemen envoy’s proposal and create “positive public rhetoric.”

It was “time to continue delivering on the expectations of Yemenis, who want and need peace,” the EU mission in Yemen said. 

Investor in court for practicing unlicensed cosmetic medicine in Dubai

Investor in court for practicing unlicensed cosmetic medicine in Dubai
Updated 05 July 2022

Investor in court for practicing unlicensed cosmetic medicine in Dubai

Investor in court for practicing unlicensed cosmetic medicine in Dubai
  • Suspect arrested during sting operation before applying a Botox injection for $1,275
  • If found guilty, the unlicensed doctor could face three years in jail, lawyer tells Arab News

DUBAI: An investor in a medical consultation company could face up to three years in jail, and/or a fine up to $542,700, if found guilty of practicing unlicensed medicine in Dubai.
Prosecutors referred the unidentified investor to the Dubai Misdemeanours Court for practicing medicine without obtaining a proper license after he was found to be injecting patients with cosmetic Botox and fillers.
Haifa Al-Marzouqi, assistant chief prosecutor at the Dubai Public Prosecution, said in a statement on Tuesday that the Dubai Healthcare Authority received a tip from an informant about a person practicing cosmetic medicine and applying fillers and Botox on patients at their homes.
“In collaboration with the DHA’s inspection department, someone posed as a potential patient and contacted the suspect to apply on her cosmetic injections. As part of a sting operation, the suspect was apprehended in a flat that was rented for that purpose,” said Al-Marzouqi.
Primary interrogations unveiled that the suspect is an investor in a medical consultation company and not a licensed doctor.
Lawyer Faisal Al-Zarouni told Arab News, that if found guilty, the suspect could be facing between one month and three years in jail, a fine varying between $54,270 and $542,700 or both punishments.
“According to the law … based on which prosecutors are requesting the court to try the suspect, it means the latter provided the health licensing authorities with false documents to obtain a license and practice medicine,” said Al-Zarouni.
Al-Marzouqi said the suspect came to the flat carrying a medium-sized handbag containing medical equipment and medical ointments.
After examining the informant’s face, he provided her with a medical consultation and advised that she needed a Botox injection in her forehead, and said he would charge her an amount of $1,275 for the procedure.
When asked how the public could prevent themselves against falling victim to unlicensed doctors, Al-Zarouni advised them to inquire about the doctor’s licenses listed on the DHA’s website.
Sources told Arab News a hearing will be scheduled next month.

President of UAE pardons 737 prisoners ahead of Eid Al-Adha

President of UAE pardons 737 prisoners ahead of Eid Al-Adha
Updated 05 July 2022

President of UAE pardons 737 prisoners ahead of Eid Al-Adha

President of UAE pardons 737 prisoners ahead of Eid Al-Adha
  • The presidential pardon comes within UAE's humanitarian initiatives based on forgiveness and tolerance

ABU DAHBI: President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan has ordered the release of 737 prisoners in the UAE, ahead of Eid Al-Adha, Emirates News Agency (WAM) reported.

The pardoned prisoners had received prison sentences for a variety of offenses and the President also pledged to settle the financial obligations of the released prisoners.

The pardon is part of the UAE's humanitarian initiatives based on the values of forgiveness and tolerance, allowing the released prisoners to begin a new chapter in their lives and positively contribute to society, WAM reported.

In November, the former president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan also ordered the release of 870 prisoners to commemorate the UAE's milestone 50th National Day.

This was followed by the release of 540 prisoners in March, ahead of Ramadan.

With Eid Al-Adha approaching, the President's annual pardon aims to strengthen family bonds by reuniting inmates with their mothers, wives, and children.

Israel expands permits for Palestinians on Eid Al-Adha

Israel expands permits for Palestinians on Eid Al-Adha
Updated 05 July 2022

Israel expands permits for Palestinians on Eid Al-Adha

Israel expands permits for Palestinians on Eid Al-Adha
  • The decision will allow 400 Palestinians to visit Al-Aqsa Mosque
  • Their trips will take them from Erez Crossing to Al-Aqsa on shuttle buses


GAZA CITY: For the first time in years, Israel has announced that it will provide temporary visitor permits to Gaza Strip residents during the Eid Al-Adha festival.

The decision will allow 400 Palestinians to visit Al-Aqsa Mosque, while 500 others will be permitted to visit first-degree relatives in the West Bank and Israel.

Ghassan Elyan, coordinator of Israeli government activities in the Palestinian Territories, announced on Facebook that 400 visitor permits to Jerusalem for men aged over 55 and women aged over 50 will be issued.

Their trips will take them from Erez Crossing to Al-Aqsa on shuttle buses. They will then return to Gaza on the same day.

The approval of the permits, Elyan said, came from Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz “after assessing the security situation.”

He also announced the provision of wider permissions to West Bank residents, including family visits to Israel without specifying the number of permits, 200 permits to visit the city of Eilat, as well as allowing 500 Palestinians to travel through Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.

Working hours at some crossings between the West Bank and Israel will be expanded. The crossing with Jordan will also be included in the expansion.

The move came as part of Israeli steps to quell tensions in the Gaza Strip and maintain peace in areas bordering Gaza, according to analysts.

Israel announced an increase in the quota of permits for Palestinians to work in the country from 10,000 to 12,000, despite rumors of an increase to 30,000 several months ago.

Mustafa Ibrahim, a Palestinian columnist, said that the move is an attempt to maintain calm and that the permits offered “do not change the reality of the Gaza Strip.”

Ibrahim told Arab News that without granting permits to at least 50,000 Palestinians to work in Israel, no change will occur in the Gaza Strip. “Israel forgets that the solution to the crisis in the Gaza Strip has to be political, not humanitarian,” he said.

The Palestinian Authority’s civil affairs department, which submits permit applications to Israel, announced that it was closing its permit line several hours after the Israeli decision due to a surge in applicants.

“Due to a huge number of citizens who have submitted requests to pray at Al-Aqsa and to visit relatives, and the limited number allowed by the Israeli side, we announce the closure of the counter to receive applications,” it said.

In previous years, Israel allowed elderly people residing in Gaza to visit Al-Aqsa, but the trips were halted due to what Israel described as a lack of security due to the firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip.

Israel refuses to allow Palestinians residing in the Gaza Strip to visit their relatives in the West Bank, except in cases of marriage, death and sometimes visits to patients with first-degree relatives.

Israel laid a strict siege on Gaza since Hamas — which it considers a hostile entity — took control of the area in 2007. It only allows the humanitarian passage of patients and imposes severe restrictions on the import of goods.

Imad Khalil, 56, was among the early birds who submitted an application to pray at Al-Aqsa, hoping he could visit Islam’s third holiest site for the first time in about 25 years.

But Najat Muhammad was unable to submit her application to visit her family in the West Bank, because by the time her turn came, the counter to receive requests was closed. She has not seen her loved ones in eight years.

“Israel did not allow me to visit my mother and brothers in the city of Tulkarm. My father died eight years ago, and since then I have been trying to get a permit but to no avail, and now I have failed to apply for a permit again,” she told Arab News.